The Granada, Lawrence
Friday, January 16
Something about pairing the twin titans of ska-punk brought out every 30-something in Lawrence Friday night. Also, their kids. Hell, even my kid was there with his roommate. It seemed like the in place to be. And why not, really? While it's a legitimate argument that neither Less Than Jake nor Reel Big Fish have put out a good album in the last decade, the energy and fun of their live shows is undeniable.
It's weird, because I've seen Less Than Jake so many times at this point that I'm never quite certain as to which show I'm remembering. Given that the band's had a pretty steady lineup as of late, with a setlist that's always sure to include "Look What Happened" and "Automatic," it's basically like the ska version of those REO Speedwagon, Boston, or Foreigner shows that played every summer for most of my childhood. It's great that they're still releasing new material, but I basically just want to hear "Riding the Storm Out" or "More Than A Feeling."
But nostalgia aside, everybody's voices are holding up, they don't look wrinkly and sad while jumping around on stage, and the crowd's got enough money to buy merch. I think we all win.
Jesus Christ, Reel Big Fish. The Granada was sweaty and packed by the halfway point of their set. It was a perfect example that, despite the fact that Aaron Barrett is the only original member, the band's managed to remain a fantastic live act. You'd think that the loss of Dan Regan and Scott Klopfenstein would've rendered the band a pale imitation of itself, but Reel Big Fish remains a live act of impressive energy. Hell, they rocked a cover of "Monkey Man" which managed to be of quality, despite being a cover of Amy Winehouse covering the Specials covering Toots & the Maytals. I might've been drunk as shit by the halfway point of their set, but I could've watched them all night.
Authority Zero kicked everything off. They've been around for years, always seeming to glom onto the opening slot for a third-wave ska act making the rounds. They're the amalgamation of every heavy pop-punk band that ever had a ska song (see also: Wank, Schleprock), and while energetic, completely failed to grab my interest. Authority Zero gives their all on stage, for sure, with a frontman who's constantly in motion, but they're that thing that kills me: talented, but utterly unremarkable. Not a single song turned me off, but neither was there anything which had me writing down lyrics to track it down afterward.
Fun fucking times, people. Wallowing in nostalgia might be sad at times, but sometimes it can be a glorious celebration of shit that's fun and exciting. It's always a pleasant thing to discover that sometimes, you can revisit your youth, and thank god -- it's actually something worth going back to.
Dan Potthast is perhaps best known as the frontman for St. Louis' finest circus-ska purveyors, MU330. In the years since that band took an unofficial hiatus, he's performed solo and with the Stitch Up. Most recently, Potthast performed and recorded with the more traditional ska outfit Dan P. & the Bricks, which features members of Slow Gherkin. He's getting ready to go on a tour with Reel Big Fish and Pilfers which starts January 5 at the House of Blues Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California. In advance of his six weeks on the road, Potthast was cool enough to answer some questions via e-mail about touring as a solo act, and the inherent differences between that and his usual band gigs.
Why tour solo, and not with Dan P. & the Bricks?
There's a number of reasons. I like the freedom of playing whatever song I want on any given night at any given moment. I can change the set list mid-set ... or even mid-song if I want, and nobody in the band will give me funny looks or be bummed that I dropped a certain song. I can write a song 10 minutes before the set and play it that night if I'd like. For me, artistically it's really freeing to be on tour solo. I switch over to a mode of being hyper awake and tuned in. It's just healthy for me as a person. It's tough to get on stage in front of a packed theater by yourself and hold the audience's attention. I like that challenge.
It's also easier to confirm a tour with yourself than it is to confirm a tour with a band full of busy people. The Bricks are very busy people, with full time jobs and babies and a million other things going on, so it's really impossible for us to do shows outside of California.
The final reason is that it's cheaper to tour solo. I can tour in a smaller vehicle and spend less on gas. It's easier to stay at people's houses on tour with one person, and you don't have to fight anyone for the couch. The one way split is the big one though. When I sell a T-shirt, and there's a $5 profit, in a 10 piece band like the Bricks, each member makes 50 cents, as opposed to solo, where I would make $5. Five bucks will still get you a gallon of gas. (In the U.S. anyway) Fifty cents will barely get you around the block.
Does it allow for a wider set list?
Totally. I can play solo songs, MU330 songs, Stitch Up songs, or Dan P. and the Bricks tunes and don't need to worry about if the band knows it at all.
Will you be doing anything with Pilfers or Reel Big Fish, or is it just you up there with an acoustic guitar?
It will be me up there with an acoustic guitar. As far as collaborating, we will see. No plans yet, but often those sorts of things happen naturally on tour.
Your songs have always walked the line between the humorous ("Streetlights," and the pointedly observant ("KKK Highway," "Baby Rats," et al). What can folks expect to hear on this tour?
Most likely a mix. I have a handful of humorous songs that I always seem to lean on when I play big theater shows. In the big places, I feel like those grab people's attention and draw them in. The strategy is to get people listening with a funny one, and then play a well written song with smart lyrics that is not funny at all. The danger in playing too many jokey songs is that people start to think of me as the Adam Sandler guy. This can be confusing to people if they hear me play funny songs and they buy the record and it's not a Tenacious D like experience at all. In the long run though, I think people are going to be more psyched about an album with some depth that they can listen to repeatedly, which is what I'm shooting for.
Are you taking requests?
Yes. Always. And, as the all-powerful emperor of my solo set, I have total and complete veto power.
Have you done an acoustic tour like this before -- where's it's you alone on stage in a theater? I know some of your solo shows have been rather more intimate.
Yes. I've toured a lot of big theaters solo. I did the Plea for Peace tour, and lots of touring with Streetlight Manifesto all over the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe, and Japan.
How do you as a musician get an audience involved and interested when they might not be there to see you? Is it more difficult solo than as a band?
When you are playing solo, your energy just has to be WAY up. When you're playing with a band, there are other band members to feed off of, and you can lean on them. Solo, you just need to be mentally fired up.
One thing that people don't usually think about though, is that when I play solo in a big place, I have the element of surprise working for me. When a solo opening guy walks out, the crowd in general is expecting some whining coffee shop bozo that is going to put people to sleep. If you come out with some energy and make people laugh a bit, they are going to be psyched.
Aside from the performance end of things, the nuts and bolts part of touring is definitely more difficult, and more physically demanding. It's not easy driving 8-10 hours, then sitting back by your t-shirts by yourself all night, every night. When I'm touring solo, it's work time! There's no hanging out backstage drinking beers or partying after the show. I'm the designated driver every night.
Speaking of bands, has MU330 gone by the wayside? I know there've been the occasional reunion shows, but I'm assuming that it won't be a recording or touring entity again.
Never say never! I'm going to spend a few weeks in St. Louis over the holidays, and there's talk of digging into an unfinished MU330 album. No promises though! We've been "working" on this album now for over 12 years! Any MU330 projects are taken at a leisurely pace and are done purely for our own amusement. I'd like to see us play some more shows in 2013, as it will be our 25th anniversary of us being a band.
How did MU330 slow down?
We toured for 12 solid years with barely a break. I think we got a little burned out, and things kind of planed out for us. When it was apparent that the band wasn't growing, we started to take a couple weeks off here, and a couple weeks off there, until our lives pivoted to other things. Ted started playing more music with his wife in the band Bagheera, and he became a scientist, and I started playing more solo shows in our time off.
There was never a "farewell" show or tour that I can remember. Was the reason for not doing that a way of keeping the group alive?
There was never a farewell tour because the band never broke up. We all love each other and forever share a bond that is stronger than blood. We never call our shows "reunion shows" because we play shows every year. MU330 will break up when we are dead.
Mike Park floated the idea of pressing all the MU330 albums on vinyl LP. What do you think of that idea?
I love the idea. I really hope it happens. I'm excited to finally release my two favorite MU330 albums, Ultra Panic and Winter Wonderland on vinyl.
Anything you'd like to add that I didn't ask?
I'm halfway through recording a new solo album, and this coming February, I'll be recording a totally new rock n' roll project with Rick Johnson from Mustard Plug ... and that's about it! Thanks!
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Thanks to Velocity Marketing for the tickets. You can find more information about the show (including a link to buy tickets) at the Beaumont Club's website.